NXT Takeover: Stand & Deliver: Every Match Ranked

NXT is back bay-bay!

This was easily the best show NXT has put on in over a year and is definitely up there with some of the all-time great Takeover shows. Everyone brought their A-game over the past couple of nights, which feels like the start of a new era for NXT. Both in a metaphorical sense with the rejuvenated roster and quality shows and in a literal sense with new champions crowned across the board.

I’ve got nothing else to say, so let the gushing commence!

12 – Killian Dain & Drake Maverick def. Breezango
(Pre-show)

There was nothing wrong with this match, it just doesn’t stand out on an incredible card like this.

Dain & Maverick have really entertaining chemistry. I enjoy the fact that Dain just gets tired of Maverick’s shit sometimes and does things like powerbomb him onto the opponents. It’s a shame Breezango didn’t get to make much of their tag title reign, but I think they’re great for spots like this when we just want to see a good match and some friendly faces.

There’s no way Dain & Maverick are winning the tag titles, but I can’t wait to see them try.

11 – Zoey Stark def. Toni Storm
(Pre-show)

This was in no way a bad match, it’s just this is such a stacked show, even a really good match like this isn’t going to get very high up the list.

It’s clear that the people behind the scenes at NXT are really high on Zoey Stark, and this win will no doubt do wonders for her. I’m a little sad that Toni Storm has had to eat so many losses as of late, but I don’t mind that much since this is just helping an already stacked division get another prominent star. Not much more to say about this one; it was a good match with a nice pace and a surprising but satisfying conclusion. Thumbs up.

10 – Johnny Gargano(c) def. Bronson Reed
(North American Championship)

Takeover lists are always difficult to write because I have to stress that even though I’ve ranked this as the “worst” match on the main show, it was still really good. However, I’ve got to rank something at the bottom, even if I like it.

To me, what made this match fall to the bottom of the pile was that it just lacked that something special I expect from Takeover matches. Functionally, there was nothing wrong with it. I admit, I’m not as big on Bronson Reed as most other people seem to be, but this match still had plenty of upside. A good flow, an enjoyable back-and-forth style that let both men look great in their own ways.

However, when you look at the matches I’ve ranked above this one, there’s just something about them that ‘clicks’ more to me. It elevates them to be something worthy of a show like this, where NXT showcases the best of what they have to offer. I enjoyed this match. I just enjoyed the rest a lot more.

9 – Bronson Reed def. Leon Ruff, Isaiah “Swerve” Scott, Cameron Grimes, Dexter Lumis & LA Knight
(Winner gets a North American Championship match on Night 2)
(Gauntlet)

There was a lot about this match that I really didn’t see coming.

For one thing, it wasn’t the style of gauntlet match I thought it was going to be. However, I’d argue it was better. This way kept it to a more manageable time for the show and gave us much more interesting action when the ring filled up with guys, rather than being left with a bunch of slightly too short one on one matches.

The different phases this match moved through kept the action solid throughout. The dynamic between Ruff & Scott early on felt like the kind of match I want to see a lot more of down the line, and as people kept getting added, chaos reigned, and things got fun. Lumis didn’t have nearly as prominent a role as I would’ve thought. However, it looks like his next major feud is ready to go as LA Knight, despite getting the short end of the stick here, got over as much as he needed to on this show.

This left us with a final three of Grimes, Scott & Reed, which was way better than I thought it would’ve been. They generally avoided any man powdering out, keeping all three of them in the action for the entire time until Grimes was eliminated. Once Reed won, I began to doubt my statement that Gargano would lose the title on night 2, but I still think him winning this match was great for someone who I thought wouldn’t get a shot until later in the year.

8 – Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart(c) def. The Way
(NXT Women’s Tag Team Championships)

These women’s tag titles are essentially going to be used as a mid-card title for NXT’s women’s division, and I am totally down for that if matches like this are the result.

This one was a very gradual builder, but that made the heights it reached toward the end feel earned. The bulk of the match is the solid tag action that you’d expect from any match like this. The Way did a good job with the divide-and-conquer style of tag work, and the hot tag felt worth the relative slowness that proceeded them.

As always in tag matches, the best stuff came towards the end when things broke down, and people were jumping in from all over the place. It definitely felt like the women involved just let loose and did whatever they felt like in this last section, and it made for a lot of great moments. I’m glad the champs retained and that it was such a solid match because it definitely gives the feeling that NXT will be treating these titles a lot better than Raw & Smackdown have done.

7 – Pete Dunne def. Kushida

I’ll be frank, picking Kushida here was a bloody stupid pick. In hindsight, of course, Pete Dunne was going to win.

My stupidity aside, I really enjoyed this match. I think it would’ve been better with a more meaningful story, but there’s no denying the incredible technical prowess both men had on display. Kushida keeps impressing with his matches despite the fact that he keeps losing, and it’s these kinds of performances that’ll keep him bubbling away until he can finally start winning again.

Dunne, meanwhile, met Kushida’s quick offence with a range of counters, the likes of which you’ve never seen. Dunne worked to turn everything Kushida did against him, and as balanced as the match was in places, it definitely felt like Kushida never really stood a chance of winning. Dunne was able to decelerate and accelerate the match at his whim and had an answer for just about everything Kushida could throw his way.

I don’t know what they’re going to do with Dunne next, but I hope it’s something meaningful because matches like this make it so clear he’ll be able to run with whatever he’s given.

6 – Karrion Kross(c) def. Finn Balor
(NXT Championship)

Is this good enough for you? People who hate Karrion Kross for reasons I still don’t understand.

I’d say this is the point in the list where the matches reach that higher tier of quality that we always hope to get out of Takeovers. Both men played their roles in this match to perfection. Balor’s strategy of getting in Kross’ head early on was something we haven’t seen in quite that way for a long time, and I loved it. The way Balor painted the cross over his heart and then laughed in Kross’ face every time he’d get chucked across the ring was so good.

The action wasn’t the main attraction of this match because the storytelling carried it better than the action ever could. Balor looked so clever with the game plan he came in with, and for the first section of the match, he actually looked quite dominant over Kross. This time, Kross’s presentation has been different from the indestructible monster we saw last year, and I prefer it this way. Monsters should look beatable but still manage to win anyway.

When Kross took over and put the beatdown on Balor, things got more intense, and the dynamic evened out a lot more. The part of the storytelling I love most is how drastically Balor changed his style once he broke free of Kross’ beatdown. Gone was the slow, deliberate technician, and in its place was a quick and deadly striker, and that looked to end the match as quick as possible. The final portion of the match was far more back-and-forth, and it brought everything together nicely.

Kross winning was absolutely the best choice. Balor’s title reign has been fantastic – better than his first – but it’s Kross’ time. It’s been a long time since we had a true monster at the top of NXT, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with the belt.

5 – Raquel Gonzalez def. Io Shirai(c)
(NXT Women’s Championship)

Honestly, when so many of these matches are so good, it becomes difficult to find different ways to talk about how good they are.

This match was a very clear clash of styles that they executed to a fantastic degree. Gonzalez’s ability in singles matches is understated, and I think that’s because her style is more muted than what we’re used to from the women’s division. I don’t mean that as an insult, to be clear, her movements are affectionately fluid, and she understands exactly how to work against her flashier opponents. Her power game is something to be envied, and she manages to mix it in with just enough fast-paced strikes and technical manoeuvres that she comes across as an extremely well-rounded performer.

This match wasn’t all about Gonzalez, though, as Io made sure that no one could forget her. She certainly had the most memorable moments of the match, with a Moonsault to the outside followed by a brilliant looking dive off of the skull (Speaking of, the set for this show looked really great). She understood exactly the kind of wrestler she was up against and adjusted her style to include a lot more of the muted but excellent technical stylings that Gonzalez is good at, and of course, got thrown around like a sack of potatoes at every opportunity.

This was a worthy send-off for Io Shirai’s fantastic title reign and crowned a new champion in spectacular fashion. Long may she reign.

4 – Santos Escobar(c) def. Jordan Devlin(c)
(Undisputed Cruiserweight Championship)
(Ladder)

I was unsure how these two would mesh their styles. As it turns out, the answer was bloody brilliantly.

I loved how they waited to get the ladders involved in the match. We got a solid 5 minutes of the match before either of them picked up a ladder for the first time. It gave the match a great sense of rising tension. It served the story as well, both men want to prove they’re worthy of heading up the Cruiserweight division, so they started out with some classic cruiserweight action.

Things kept building nicely once the ladders got involved. They still moved very quickly and incorporated the ladders into their offence in fun ways. It may not have been anything we haven’t seen in ladder matches before, but it didn’t need to be. The various leaps & falls off of ladders were the kind of spectacle we couldn’t see anywhere else on this show, and it helped this match stand out amongst an incredible lineup of matches.

As the match reached its climax, I bought into a lot of the false finishes. Which was helped by the fact that I really had no idea who was going to win. Ultimately, while I wanted Devlin to win, Escobar is probably the better choice. He’s been on a roll like few others since winning the interim title, and hopefully, Devlin can set his sights on a certain champion over in the UK…

3 – MSK def. Grizzled Young Veterans & Legada Del Fantasma
(NXT Tag Team Championships)

Chaos, that’s what this match was. Pure, non-stop chaos. What more could you possibly want?

It’s no secret that, in general, I like my wrestling fast and crazy, so this match was always going to tick all of my boxes. Having three amazing teams like these in the ring was a recipe for success from the word go, and they still managed to exceed my expectations. Every person in all three teams seemed to be in the perfect place at the perfect time to hit the perfect move. There was barely a moment to catch your breath in this one with how well it cycled between the active participants, and no one was underrepresented.

It felt like the bulk of the story was between MSK & GYV, with Legada Del Fantasma playing spoiler to that dynamic, getting involved when both of those teams got too mixed up with each other. It was a really interesting dynamic. It only got touched on in a few moments, but it added just that little extra bit of emotional investment I needed to become totally absorbed in the match. I really bought into a lot of the false finishes here, and with each one, I fell in love with the match more. It was the kind of match that built to what I thought was the climax and then managed to build even further.

MSK isn’t who I would’ve gone with to win, purely because there aren’t many people for them to face right now. However, it is absolutely deserved. They are clearly a fantastic tag team destined for great things in NXT. Maybe they’ll hot-potato the titles once or twice, but I have no complaints about them winning the titles.

2 – WALTER(c) def. Tommaso Ciampa
(United Kingdom Championship)

WALTER really is just one of the best wrestlers in the world. His style is so unique, but it’s almost intangibly great. He can work hard, fast, monstrous or technical depending on what the situation calls for, and he’s a brilliant judge of which style is needed for what opponent.

In my predictions, I said this match would have a bit of all WALTER’s best title defences so far, and I think I was pretty spot-on with that statement. The primary baseline of the match was the technical prowess of both men. When the two of them got tussling in that technical style, it was a thing of beauty. There was a bunch of brutality in there too. WALTER’s chops could win a title independently, but Ciampa wasn’t afraid to chop back just as hard. The striking segments felt like they carried this match a lot better than it should’ve been able to, and it added that brutal feel we were hoping for from this match.

What’s brilliant thought was how it pulled in the underdog vs monster dynamic. The truth is, I don’t think WALTER actually ever looked that dominant over Ciampa in the match, and yet Ciampa’s performance still made him feel like the incredible underdog you just had to root for. As soon as the weakness in WALTER’s right hand opened up, Ciampa desperately tried to do all he could with it.

It was a mechanically flawless match with an emotionally resonant story that filled the match at every opportunity. I will honestly be shocked if this match isn’t in my top 3 when I come to make my match of the year list this year.

At the end of night 1, I really thought nothing could top this match, but man… there was something on the horizon I couldn’t have seen coming.

1 – Kyle O’Reilly def. Adam Cole
(Unsanctioned)

What an epic match.

To address some of the criticisms I’ve seen. Yes, it was a bit long. It probably could’ve been 30 minutes instead of 40 and not missed out on much. However, it really didn’t seem 40 minutes long to me when I was watching it. It gripped me so completely that how long it was taking didn’t even enter my mind until it was over. The other major one I saw was too many kickouts, which I disagree with, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

As expected from a 40-minute match, it was a slow builder but a gripping slow builder. Things started out thick and fast, as you’d expect, with a feud as intense as this one, but the pace slowed very soon in, and the brutality slowly ramped up from there. The two men managed to balance the hard-hitting action with an intense set of technical wrestling moves for a lot of it, which kept the action ticking over and kept me interested for when the bigger spots started coming.

The segment centred around the chain, I thought, was particularly good without how they kept bringing it back into the match in unexpected ways. It’s that kind of style that wins me over with weapons matches, where the weapons are used as exclamation points on the action, no the sole focal point on it.

Where this match went from “bloody great” to “match of the year” was in the back half, though, when things were a lot slower, but every move became really meaningful. The various Last Shot attempts & dodges, the fall through the stage, it all elevated the match into that “epic” style few matches can reach. The kickouts, though, the kickouts. People said there were too many, I disagree. The thing is, if you look at the match, Cole only really kicked out of one big move towards the end – the Last Shot from O’Reilly. O’Reilly, meanwhile, kicked out of loads, and that is precisely the point of the story. O’Reilly keeps coming back despite being utterly dead on his feet. One of the last kickouts, where O’Reilly barely gets his shoulder a few inches off the ground, was so powerful to that end.

O’Reilly had to win this to become a star in NXT, which is exactly what he’s done. That long shot of him walking away from the fight, utterly battered, is the look of a hero. I don’t know where or when, but he’s our next NXT Champion, and no one can deny him.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you thought of the show, either in the comments below or on Twitter @SStyleSmark. Finally, make sure you come back here this time tomorrow for my Wrestlemania predictions!

NXT Takeover: Stand & Deliver: Predictions & Analysis

Every time a Takeover comes around, it’s always a bit of shame that so many talented performers get left off of the card. Thankfully, NXT finally decided to copy Wrestlemania, and now we’re getting a two-night show! Five matches each night, and honestly, all ten of them look like absolute winners, and I am pumped to see how all of these wrestlers try to top each other. Let’s get predicting.

Night 1

Pete Dunne vs Kushida

Not a whole lot of story riding on this one, but it’s two guys that absolutely couldn’t be left off of the show.

Kushida’s experienced a bit of a fall since losing to Gargano. I was pretty confident he would win, and now I don’t really know what they’re planning on doing with him long-term. That said, this match is a great way to tide him over. Pete Dunne similarly is feeling a bit directionless right now. He lost to Balor, and now he’s just hanging around. It doesn’t help that Burch & Lorcan are out of action right now, too, so he can’t even do faction-based stuff. That said, this match is going to be fantastic. Pete Dunne has been one of my favourite wrestlers for a long time, and there’s no doubting Kushida’s ability in the ring. I’m looking forward to seeing these two styles collide. Kushida works quick and technical, which should play quite well against Dunne’s slow, mat-based style.

Picking a winner is significantly more difficult, though, because both of them need a win. Both are coming off significant losses and are looking to regain momentum. It’s more of a matter of who I think will be in a more prominent position in the immediate future. I’m going to go with Kushida. While I think Dunne is a top-level talent, Kushida feels like he’s more on the rise at the moment, and a win like this could push him into a credible main event spot. On top of that, I think night 1 will be pretty heavy on heel wins, so this should balance it out.

Leon Ruff vs Isaiah “Swerve” Scott vs Bronson Reed vs Cameron Grimes vs Dexter Lumis vs LA Knight
(Gauntlet Match)
(Winners gets a North American Championship Match on Night 2)

Let’s just go through the list.

Leon Ruff – Dude became a star out of nowhere earlier this year, winning the North American title in the kind of shock title change that NXT hasn’t ever done before. Since then, he’s faded quite significantly, but that brief story has given him a foot in the door that cannot be removed. I think he’ll get the Kofi spot in this match, lasting the longest. However, I don’t think he’s going to win. If I were to hazard a guess, I think he’ll probably last until Cameron Grimes, where the length of time he’s spent in the match will catch up to him.

Isaiah “Swerve” Scott – I really thought he’d be a bigger star by now. He’s still a somewhat prominent player on NXT, but I’ve been expecting him to break through for a while now. Aside from his Takeover match last year with Escobar, he’s not had any major singles feuds in NXT. Unfortunately, I don’t see him going anywhere here, as I think Ruff will put him away in quick order.

Bronson Reed – A great wrestler, quickly on the rise. Unfortunately, the title scenes are just a bit too crowded at the moment to deal with him. It’s part of the problem we’re seeing with NXT’s new system of not sending people up as often. It’s just getting a bit crowded around the top, and I don’t think Reed will get a proper look-in at either of the main singles titles until at least the end of the year.

Cameron Grimes – For a while, I just didn’t get Grimes. His character was quite weird and kind of vague, but he’s slowly brought me round over the past 6 months by being one of the funniest guys on the roster. The way he plays everything is just hilarious. His anger, his fear, his joy, all of it just brings a smile to my face. The rich stuff he’s been playing up recently is some of his best work yet, and while it does have a limited lifespan, I’m enjoying it while it’s happening. I would be thrilled if Grimes got shot towards the title now, but I don’t see it happening. Heel vs heel wouldn’t really work in this instance, so we’ll have to wait a while before Grimes reaches the moon.

Dexter Lumis – This guy has to be the favourite, right? They’ve literally been building it for months now. Lumis has been on a one-man crusade against The Way. His weird and creepy attitude seemed like it would make him more of a heel, but he’s been quite carefully booked and is now a sort of twisted anti-hero that you can’t help but cheer. The simple fact of the matter is that Gargano vs Lumis has been a match they’ve been building to for ages, and it would be so weird if they didn’t follow through now.

LA Knight – I didn’t know much about LA Knight before he joined NXT, but I’d definitely enjoyed what little I saw of his time as Eli Drake. He’s been brought in a bit differently to most other signings, and I honestly thought he wouldn’t even wrestle on this show just because of how he’s been booked. That said, I’m glad he has. Hopefully, he can put on a really good final section of this match against Lumis. Knight is the only other person I think has a chance of winning, just because it’s his Takeover debut.

I’ve got to go with Dexter Lumis to win, though. Knight is possible, but given the heel dynamics at play here and how much Lumis has been built towards Gargano, I just don’t see it happening.

MSK vs Grizzled Young Veterans vs Legado Del Fantasma
(NXT Tag Team Championships)

I think I speak for everyone when I say that it’s a damn shame Burch & Lorcan didn’t get to defend their titles at this show. They’ve been a team for ages and have had so many moments of brilliance. They finally got their go with the gold, and it was snatched away from them before they could make a proper run of it.

That said, with unfortunate circumstances come opportunity for others, and now the door is wide open to swoop in and have a great title run. I think these are the perfect three teams to select for this match. There’s a huge mix of styles & characters in here that is bound to make for something incredible. NXT doesn’t do these multi-team matches all that often, but all of the ones I can remember have been brilliant, so I’ve no doubt this will be the same.

I think the titles could go any of the three ways, but there’s definitely one that sticks out in my mind as the better option. MSK are fantastic, they’ve made a hell of a splash in their short time in NXT so far, and they’re absolutely the future of this division. That future isn’t quite yet, though. Similarly, Legado Del Fantasma has done great work, and given that Escobar might not have that Cruiserweight title for much longer, giving them the tag titles could be a good way to keep their momentum going. However, I’m picking Grizzled Young Veterans. They fill a similar heel role to Burch & Lorcan, but they are enough their own team that it won’t feel like a cheap imitation. Gibson with a microphone in his hand is sure-fire entertainment, and they’d be the perfect foils if you want MSK to chase the titles following this show.

WALTER vs Tommaso Ciampa
(NXT United Kingdom Championship)

Definitely the match I’m most excited for on night 1. This could be a brutal match.

My favourite match of 2019 was Pete Dunne vs WALTER from Takeover: New York, and one of the reasons I liked it so much was because of how it balanced the intricate, technical, mat-based style with high-impact spots that made even some of the more mundane stuff feel like a huge deal. Stylistically, I think Ciampa has a lot in common with Dunne, except he has a bit of extra flair about him, which means he can turn the pace up to something incredible when he wants to. I’m expecting this match to be a bit of a hybrid of all of WALTER’s best title defences so far. It’ll have some of the technical prowess of his match with Dunne, the emotion of his match with Tyler Bate and a lot of the brutality from his match with Ilya Dragunov.

The one downside this match has is that I think the result is pretty obvious. While I don’t think it’s impossible, I would be incredibly shocked if Ciampa won that UK title. It would undoubtedly do wonders for the show, but I don’t think he quite fits with what they’ve got going on down there right now. It’s the kind of thing that, if they did it, I’d love it, but I also don’t really want it to happen. WALTER retaining is the sensible pick here, and he gets to continue his mammoth run with the title. I know he couldn’t defend the belt for most of 2020, but I honestly think he’d still be holding it now regardless. I have no idea who will finally topple him, but it’s going to be a huge deal when someone does.

Io Shirai(c) vs Raquel Gonzalez
(NXT Women’s Championship)

I was somewhat critical of NXT in 2020. They were still putting on great shows, but it definitely felt a tier below what they’d been doing for the past few years. The one person I never had such criticisms of is Io Shirai, who has been the absolute top star of NXT in my mind for ages. She carried the brand on her back throughout 2020 and has had the opportunity to put on several brilliant matches as the women’s division continued to fill with incredible talents.

So now, we’re in a situation where the division’s biggest and most unstoppable star collides with the fastest rising star the division’s seen since Rhea Ripley. In fact, it is pretty much exactly like the Baszler/Ripley thing, only with the heel/face dynamic reversed. Gonzalez doesn’t wrestle a very flashy style, but she can still use it to put on fantastic matches. I think many were sceptical of her abilities at first, but her time tagging with Dakota Kai and her singles match with Rhea Ripley silenced those doubts in my mind. She & Kai won the women’s Dusty cup, which was a great moment and, although it was brief, got to be the first NXT Women’s Tag Team Champions.

So is she going to win the title? I really don’t know. I think it’s a given that she will win the title; I’m just not 100% sure it’s right now. While Shirai has been champion for almost a year and done wonders, it doesn’t quite feel like the end of her time yet. On top of that, Gonzalez has Kai in her corner, and the tension between them is bubbling just below the surface. I could absolutely see a situation where jealous Kai costs Gonzalez the title. However, I could also see them playing the long game on that front, having Gonzalez win the title until Kai eventually decided she wants it for herself. That said, this is NXT’s biggest show in quite a while, and I think giving us a big change of the guard would be the right impact to leave, so I’m going with Raquel Gonzalez to become champion.

Night 2

Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart vs The Way
(NXT Women’s Tag Team Championships)

NXT getting their own women’s tag titles is something that’s felt inevitable for a while. When the main belts were first introduced, they made a big deal out of how they were going to be defended on all three brands, and then it just never happened. I think maybe once someone had a match with The IIconics? I honestly don’t remember. Now, with NXT having a far deeper women’s roster than it did a few years ago, something was desperately needed for the mid-card scene of that division, so these titles should do wonders to that end.

Ember & Shotzi both seemed like they were ready to head up to the title scene, but they decided to give that spot to Gonzalez instead – a decision I agree with, all things considered – so letting these two run with the tag titles for the next while until the singles title is ready for them was definitely the way to go. The Way, meanwhile, has been excellent as of late. I had lost interest in Gargano as a heel before this faction came together, and I think they’re all much more entertaining together. Candice LaRae is another one who felt a bit directionless after losing to Io, and this seemed like the logical next move.

I have no doubt that these four women will put on a great match. I don’t think there’s any doubting the ability of any of them. I’m going with Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart to retain. Given that the first champs lost the title really quickly, I think doing another title change so soon would devalue these new belts, which is something they don’t need. I’d much rather Moon & Blackheart hold them until at least the summer to really show that NXT will be treating these belts with more respect than the main roster treats their women’s tag titles.

Adam Cole vs Kyle O’Reilly
(Unsanctioned)

This is the match I’m most looking forward to on night 2.

For the longest time, I was of the opinion that The Undisputed Era should never break up. I thought they should go to the main roster as a unit and stay that way until the time felt right. Then, when it became clear that they weren’t going to the main roster anytime soon, it became a bit muddier. THEN, Kyle O’Reilly had those pair of great title matches with Balor, and it became clear that he was ready to become an amazing singles star in NXT. This meant that, while it was still a sad occasion when Cole broke up the faction, it felt like the time was right.

Now we’ve got a match between two people who know each other in the ring like few else (they once had a singles match at Wrestle Kingdom, for God’s sake). They’ve by far got the hottest story going right now, and it’s going to be a barn burner. I’m expecting some real vicious action here, and I have faith in them to use the hardcore stipulation to its fullest potential.

As much as I’d like to pretend this one was up in the air, Kyle O’Reilly has got to come out the winner here. Unless they do a screwy finish (which is certainly possible), O’Reilly needs this win to establish himself as a main-stay in the main-event scene of NXT. I think he’s going to win the NXT title at some point in the next 12 months, and this needs to be the start of his rise. I love Adam Cole, but that dude can do whatever he wants in NXT for the rest of his time on the brand; he is fully established. O’Reilly still needs the firm footing of a vindicating victory here.

Johnny Gargano(c) vs The Winner of Night 1’s Gauntlet Match
(North American Championship)

So, it’s a bit harder to talk about this one when I don’t know who the challenger is going to be, but looking at Gargano’s run as champion, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag for me. His matches have always been great, there’s no questioning that, but his character has gained me and lost me at certain points. It was an exciting fresh direction for his character when he first turned, but it quickly wore thin. I think he tried too hard to be more menacing and threatening, and it just didn’t suit him. Eventually, he shifted it into more of a ‘chicken-shit’ heel, which suits him so much better. His interaction with The Way every week always has this bumbling comedic edge that is very fun to watch.

As I said in my night 1 predictions, I think the challenger will be Dexter Lumis. He’s been Gargano’s primary focus for months now, and it would be weird if anyone else won. I don’t really know how these two will mesh in the ring because I’m still not entirely sure what Lumis’ style is. He seems very fluid and adaptable to who he’s in the ring with. This is most certainly a good thing, it just means I’m unsure of what kind of match we’re going to get when these two collide.

What I am sure of is that Dexter Lumis is coming away with that title. I would actually say Gargano is going to lose the title no matter who the challenger is. He’s been around the North American title scene for a long time now, and it just feels like his time is up. Lumis makes the most sense to win the title, but even if it’s someone like LA Knight or Cameron Grimes, I think switching the title is the right move. The North American title needs to be around the waist of someone on the rise now, rather than an already established star.

Jordan Devlin(c) vs Santos Escobar(c)
(Undisputed Cruiserweight Championship)
(Ladder)

A match that we’ve been waiting for forever, and it’s finally happening. I was really excited when Devlin won the Cruiserweight title, but he ended up not doing much with it. It wasn’t his fault, of course, or anyone’s for that matter. The pandemic did what it did, and he was one of the casualties. Escobar was the star that was able to rise in his place, and he definitely made the most of it. Abandoning his mask and former ring name to become a fresh character, the kind of which the Cruiserweight division hadn’t yet seen.

Putting these two together in the ring seems like a recipe for success. At first glance, they don’t seem like they’d mesh, but Escobar has shown how adaptable he can be with the variety of opponents he’s taken on during his title reign. Devlin’s style is less fluid but just as good, and I think as long as these two click in the ring (which I assume they will), we should be in for a treat.

Picking a winner is a bit difficult. Giving Devlin the win would allow him to have the Cruiserweight title reign that I wished he could’ve had when he initially won the title, but Escobar has proved to be a great asset to the division in Devlin’s absence. NXT’s never been one to shy away from an unexpected new star when they come along, but they also like to stick to their plans wherever possible. It’s a tough one because I could honestly see them going either way. My gut says Jordan Devlin, so that’s what I’m picking. This is the one I’m struggling the most with, though.

Finn Balor(c) vs Karrion Kross
(NXT Championship)

This is the match I’ve been waiting for.

I’ve seen people be very critical of Kross’ astronomic rise in NXT, and honestly, I don’t get it. I know his match with Keith Lee was a bit underwhelming, but he was injured for most of it, so I actually think it was bloody good for what it was. On top of that, his character has this indestructible aura around him that we haven’t seen in an NXT Champion since Aleister Black & Tommaso Ciampa were holding the belts. I think he’s got all the talent necessary. His look is incredible, his entrance is even better; how on Earth could this guy do anything else but immediately become the champion?

Kross’ injury was extremely unfortunate, but it gave way to Balor’s run as NXT Champion which has been fantastic and by far my favourite run of Balor’s career. He’s made new stars and put on fantastic matches left and right with a character that has the kind of edge I’d been wanting to see from him since the moment he first showed up in NXT in 2015. I’m excited to see how these two mesh in the ring. Kross’ hoss style is an interesting one, and I think Balor will be able to adapt to it well. Balor’s current character allows him to be a dominating badass and a plucky underdog depending on his opponent, and I think he’ll be able to use both sides to great effect in this match.

I’m pretty confident about picking the winner here, but not as much as I probably should be. I’m going with Karrion Kross because it just makes sense. They gave him a Lesnar-style push to the title when he first debuted, and even though the injury derailed him a bit, I don’t see why they’d abandon those plans now. Balor has been a fantastic champion, and part of me does think they might just want to keep going with him. There’s the seed of doubt in my mind, but I just can’t bring myself to pick Balor to retain; it’d be a dumb move. It’s Kross’ time; let’s hope it can go as planned this time.

NXT Takeover: Vengeance Day: Predictions & Analysis

Feel that warm breeze in the air? That must mean it’s time for the first NXT Takeover of the year. I didn’t enjoy the 2020 lineup of Takeovers as much as previous years, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I’m coming into 2021 ready to fall back in love with the yellow brand like I was in 2017/18/19. I seem to have picked a good show to fall in love with as well because this card is full of matches that I’m very excited to see and promises to be a top-notch night of action, but who’s going to win. I’ll tell you who, which a roughly 60% accuracy rate.

MSK vs Grizzled Young Veterans
(Men’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Finals)

The NXT tag titles have been in a bit of a weird situation since the pandemic started. Travel restrictions prevented one-half of current champs, Pete Dunne, from making it into the country to defend the title. So then Riddle teamed with Timothy Thatcher, then they IMMEDIATELY lost the titles to Imperium. Then Imperium…didn’t defend the titles for most of their reign. Then they lost the titles to Breezango in a reign so inconsequential I honestly forgot it happened until I checked Wikipedia, and now Burch & Lorcan have the titles and are yet to do anything of note with them.

It’s not been a great year for the tag division at large in NXT, despite having plenty of talent on hand. However, this Dusty Classic definitely feels like it’s revitalized the scene a bunch. Even the teams that felt a bit thrown together for this tournament impressed, and the competitors that have risen to the top are a great reminder of the depth of talent NXT can pull from.

Personally, I thought Ciampa & Tatcher were going all the way, as I’ve loved their rivalry turned partnership, but Grizzled Young Veterans beating them this Wednesday threw a lot of confusion in the mix as to who I think is going to win. I knew very little about MSK (formerly The Rascalz) before joining NXT, but they definitely fit right in with all the other great teams in NXT right now. They seem like the favourites to win, but I’m not entirely sure. Grizzled Young Veterans were last year’s runners up, and it would seem weird for them to come second place again. Plus, it’s not like it’d hurt MSK too much as I’m sure the match will be great.

It’s a tough call, but I’m going with MSK, they have all the momentum right now, and although I don’t think they’ll win the titles, it’s the perfect way to establish them as main-stays in the division.

Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart vs Dakota Kai & Raquel Gonzalez
(Women’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Finals)

While the women’s tournament was smaller, it was by no means any less stacked, and I think it’d been an extremely enjoyable tournament this past month, and one that’s been quite hard to predict as well.

Dakota Kai had a bit of a cooling-off period towards the end of last year, but I’m glad NXT is still interested in investing in her because she absolutely deserves it. Moon & Blackheart meanwhile feel like they’re on top of the world. Blackheart is the next big thing in the division and Moon feels so different to her 2016/17 run in NXT in a good way. Everything about how they’ve been treated together has made them into quite the package, and one I want to see more of past the end of this tournament.

I think there’s no question that this one will be great. Raquel Gonzalez has absolutely proved she can be in the top spot of the NXT women’s division with talents like the rest in the match and it’s going to make for one hell of a match. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one descended into chaos quite quickly and held a fast pace for the majority of it’s run time.

As for picking a winner, I’m a bit torn. Gonzalez has been getting many big wins like that at Wargames, and against Rhea Ripley, so it would certainly make sense to keep that going. Dakota Kai could also do with a big win like this after her cooling-off period last year. I know she was also in that Wargames match, but she didn’t really feature in it very heavily in my opinion. That said, Shotzi & Moon fell like they also need a big win, as while they have undeniably been presented as big stars, they haven’t got many wins as of late.

Then there’s the additional factor of the winners getting a shot at the women’s tag titles (which they won’t win), and I think WWE would rather showcase two of their top faces to a bigger stage than the heels. Plus, Baszler & Nia Jax are the current champions, and heel vs heel doesn’t really work. Considering all of that, I think it’s got to be Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart in a move that will hopefully launch one or both of them into the title scene.

Johnny Gargano(c) vs Kushida
(North American Championship)

Much like Keith Lee when he first signed with the brand, it feels like we’ve been waiting for ages for NXT to actually do something with Kushida. You could argue it’s a positive thing that they don’t shove stars into the limelight until they’re actually ready to go somewhere with them, but it does feel odd to have these stars on the back burner for ages. Either way, that’s changed now, and Kushida is ready to take off.

Gargano’s heel run has had me going back and forth. On the one hand, I’ve never really felt all that convinced by it. He’s such a natural babyface, and he didn’t take that much of a different angle like Sami Zayn did when he turned. That said, he’s still very skilled in the ring and on the mic. I thought his segment on NXT this past Wednesday was excellent and balanced the comedy and drama really well, but it’s not all been like that. Conversely, Kushida hasn’t had that much to sink his teeth into in terms of story. Not every story needs to be wildly complicated, but I was hoping this story would have a bit more to it than Gargano being a bit of a jerk.

That said, it’s still two of the best technical wrestlers on the planet clashing with each other in what is sure to be a match of the year contender very early on in 2021. I feel reasonably confident with picking Kushida to win the title here. My main thought being that, if he’s not going to win the title, then what on Earth is he going to do? However, Gargano does seem to keep winning that title when I don’t think he will, so I can’t entirely rule out the possibility he retains. Ultimately, Kushida having the title is far better for him that it would be for Gargano to retain. His reign wouldn’t even have to be all that long as long as he got a bunch of high-quality defences in there.

Io Shirai(c) vs Toni Storm vs Mercedes Martinez
(NXT Women’s Championship)

Let’s see here, we’ve got one of the coolest female superstars currently in WWE with Io Shirai. A powerful heel character in Toni Storm with an in-ring style to match. And finally, an in-ring veteran in Mercedes Martinez, who is looking to re-establish herself as a force to be reckoned with. Yup, that definitely checks all of my ‘match of the year’ boxes.

Much like the Gargano/Kushida storyline, this one has been relatively simple, but unlike the Gargano/Kushida storyline, I don’t think it needs to be much more. It’s three women with an incredible amount of in-ring talent, who all really want the title and don’t like each other very much. What more could you ask for? Any combination of these women in singles matches would be amazing, but the triple threat nature should hopefully kick it up a notch into a non-stop fast-paced affair to blow us all away, much like the triple threat match where Shirai won the title.

As for a winner, I think the odds lie with Io Shirai. While Toni Storm would be a great choice for champion, I don’t feel like she’s been built enough and her winning the championship now would feel quite sudden. That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy it, I’m just saying it’s not the most sensible move. I actually think there’s an outside chance Martinez could win this. I think there’s a good story to be told in her jumping back to NXT and immediately winning the title. Plus, I think she could straddle the tweener line very well as opponents like Shotzi Blackheart, Ember Moon & Raquel Gonzalez sit on the horizon.

As I said though, Io Shirai makes the most sense. This really doesn’t feel like there’s going to be a title change, and it would be a rather sudden end to Shirai’s excellent reign as champion. I think this is just going to boost her stock as champion moving into her next big singles feud.

Finn Balor(c) vs Pete Dunne
(NXT Championship)

Now here’s the match I’m the most excited for. I’ve always loved Dunne, and I’ve said it many times over the years, but he makes the more grounded, mat-based style his own in a way I don’t think anyone else can right now. As for Balor, while I’m often critical of him, I can’t deny that his current run as NXT champion has been bloody brilliant. His matches with O’Reilly were both barn-burners and the intensity with which he carries himself has made him feel like such an unbelievably colossal star. He’s an entirely different person from who he was in his first reign as champion, and I think that’s brilliant.

I’ll be interested to see how these two mesh their styles here. I’m expecting it to be a much slower, hard-hitting affair than what we’re used to for NXT main events, but I’m hoping that will be in a good way. While Balor’s style has always been more flashy & fast, his recent work has definitely focused on the impact of his moves, rather than how they look, and I think it’s improved his in-ring work significantly. Alternatively, if they instead go the other way, and Dunne accelerates his style, I still think we’ll be in for a hell of a ride. Of course, the truth is almost always in the middle when it comes to these things, and I’m excited about it.

Picking a winner has been a tricky affair. I was initially wondering what Kross was going to do when he came back, but now it’s become clear he’s going for the Cruiserweight title, that’s out of the picture. So with no other outside factors like that to consider, I think there’s a genuine chance we could see a title change. Dunne has had such a head of steam since returning, and while Balor has been an excellent champion, I feel like it’s Dunne’s time. Granted, I’m not entirely sure what Balor will do if he drops the title now, but I could say the same for Dunne. Dunne’s been in NXT for ages, and if he’s not going to move upwards in the brand anytime soon, then why is he still here?

I think I’ve talked myself into it. I’m going with Pete Dunne to win the title.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Please, let me know who you think is going to win on Sunday, either in the comments below or on Twitter @SStyleSmark. Finally, make sure to come back here this time on Monday, where I’ll be reviewing the show, and next Saturday, where I’ll be running through my favourite board games!

NXT Takeover 31: Every Match Ranked

I knew I was right to not give up on Takeovers just yet, this was a lot more in line with what we liked them for! As it happens, I don’t think this show will be remembered all that much in the years to come, purely because there wasn’t any major story or event that stood out in the whole thing. Every champion retained, and the two big surprises will live or die on how they’re followed up on, so there’s not much to look back on in a year’s time. However, it was still a damn good night of wrestling, so let’s break it down.

5 – Damian Priest(c) def. Johnny Gargano
(North American Championship)

This is one of those cases where I have to specify that, even though it’s last, I still really liked this match. It’s just that all the other matches were even better.

After having a key role in the ladder match at Takeover 30, this was the first match where I’ve felt really impressed by what Priest has to offer. He’s had plenty of good matches up until now, of course, but this was the match where I got the feeling that he could properly hang with the best of the best in NXT. Gargano has finally settled into a style that captures the right balance between his heel & face styles. He’s still able to slow the pace, and make nastier moves, but without sacrificing the excitement of the match.

Priest winning was definitely the right decision. I’m a little confused as to why the referee seemed so concerned about the random security guys who were standing in a stupid position. Still, nevertheless, it gave Gargano an opening to do his thing. My only real concern is where Gargano goes from here. There’s no room for him in the NXT title scene at the moment, and he can’t keep hanging around the North American title like he has been most of the year. Personally, I’d think the best creative decision would be to leave him off TV for a while, so we can get excited about him when he’s back. However, I know that’s not realistic, so I just hope they’ve got a good non-title feud on the horizon for him.

Damian Priest, meanwhile, could fight just about anyone. He’s technically a heel, but this feud proved that doesn’t matter too much, and as long as it’s someone he gels well with, I’m sure the final product will be great.

4 – Io Shirai(c) def. Candice LaRae
(NXT Women’s Championship)

I didn’t expect this to seem like it was closing the book on the past year of NXT’s women’s division, but that’s the feeling I got coming out of it.

As expected, these two had all the chemistry you could want in the ring after all the times they’ve competed before. I will say that I don’t think it was either woman’s best work, but it was still an utter joy to watch. Io’s persona has shifted into a face a lot better than I thought it would, and her in-ring style has kept a definite edge to it that makes her feel different to what she was like a couple of years back. Candice, meanwhile, knows exactly what she’s doing, and exactly how to do it. I’d say she’s far better at working heel than her husband, which is a bit surprising considering how lovable she was as a face.

The headlines here though are about what happened after the match. First of all, Toni Storm kicked the door down and declared she’s coming for Io. This is brilliant, I’ve been waiting for Storm to break free of NXT UK and spread her wings here, so we should finally be getting to see her at her peak. The big surprise though was Ember Moon’s return. I honestly wasn’t sure if she’d ever wrestle again after the news of her various injuries, but now she’s back, and we’re going to get to see her fight Io, which is terrific. I think her underwhelming run with the title in 2017 made people forget just how amazing Moon can be, so hopefully, this will be a reminder.

3 – Kushia vs Velveteen Dream

This definitely wasn’t the match I was expecting from these two, so maybe that’s why I liked it so much.

Given Kushia & Dreams styles, I was expecting a highly technical affair. Both men have shown countless times that they can make mat-wrestling look very exciting, so I was settling in for a nice hefty dose of that when this match started. What I got instead though, was very interesting indeed. The pace was exceedingly quick throughout the whole match, as these two really tried to brutalize each other. Both of them came out of the gate with incredible energy that got me pumped for the rest of it.

Things eventually slowed down a bit, but it never lost the pace and energy that the beginning had built up, and it created the kind of back-and-forth contest that I haven’t seen in NXT for quite a while now. It definitely felt like Kushida controlled the match, but Dream was still able to look like an even match for the guy. They played around with the character work a lot, and I was wondering if they were trying to cast a shadow on the heel/face rolls, and if the aftermath is anything to go by, I think I may have been right.

I’m not sure if this would count as an out-right heel turn for Kushida, but I definitely wouldn’t be against it if that was the way they wanted to go. With Undisputed Era having turned face, it’s left a bit of a hole at the top of the card for heels, and I’d be excited to see what Kushida could do with such a role.

2 – Finn Balor(c) def. Kyle O’Reilly
(NXT Championship)

Kyle O’Reilly is a singles star now, it’s as simple as that. Anyone who already followed O’Reilly’s career already knew that he was a fantastic singles competitor, but to finally see it manifest in NXT is wonderful.

I was resistant to Balor’s heel style when he first started having featured singles matches in NXT, but I’ve absolutely come around to it now. I tend to prefer the fast-paced and flashy styles, but I think over the past year I’ve learned to appreciate the slower, hard-hitting styles that someone like Balor can produce. It makes for a match that feels weighty, where every move has a meaningful impact, and the story is allowed to flourish.

The way they structured this match got to show all of O’Reilly’s strengths as a performer and, by extension, Balor’s strength as a champion. People had already fallen in love with his charm – stuff like his belt air-guitar – but here we got to see a very sympathetic side to him. When a character like O’Reilly is a heel, it’s scarce that we see them struggle. The only time that he could be classed as ‘struggling’ as a heel, we’re too busy cheering because we’re happy he’s getting beaten up. I got the clear idea in this story that, Balor had the edge and was the better competitor overall, but O’Reilly was ready to give him one hell of a fight.

It was precisely the kind of feeling you need for an upcoming face. It felt like last night, Balor was the better man, but on any other night soon, it could very easily have gone the other way.

1 – Santos Escobar(c) def. Isaiah “Swerve” Scott
(Cruiserweight Championship)

This is the first time since the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016 that I feel like the Cruiserweight Division is living up to its potential.

This was honestly everything you could ever want from a cruiserweight match. It wasn’t super-heavy on high-flying action, but it didn’t particularly need to be. It gave us a healthy dose of the hyper-athletic stuff but didn’t bear down on us constantly with it. I think this ability to hold back from being super flashy all the time is what allowed the story of the match to properly grasp me and become my favourite match of the night.

This is one of those rare cases where the interference enhanced the story of the match and made it more exciting. I know one other match had interference last night, but the way they balanced it before quickly and efficiently disposing of it was far better than the other example. The thing with putting the Cruiserweights in a meaningful Takeover match for the first time is that you have to impress upon the audience that there’s more to the division than just the two guys you’re currently seeing. This interference did that, I don’t really know much about any of these characters, but I absolutely want to know more now I’ve seen this match.

The near-falls scattered throughout were a lot of fun. I know many people don’t like a bunch of false-finishes, but I always have been, and always will be a sucker for a good kickout. If this is the template for the Cruiserweight division from here on out in NXT, then I’m all-in, because this was brilliant.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you thought of the show, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back this time on Saturday, where I’ll be counting down the worst ever Treehouse of Horror episodes of The Simpsons.

NXT Takeover XXX: Every Match Ranked

The 30th Takeover is officially in the record books and well…I definitely enjoyed it. It feels like a notable shift in the style of PPVs that NXT is going to be putting out from now on. It feels like, in order to appeal to the broader USA Network audience, they’re shifting their PPVs to have more or something for everyone, rather than constant, hyper-focused top-quality wrestling matches to please Meltzer’s star ratings. Whether this change is for the better or worse remains to be seen over the next year or so, but if the shows they come out with that like the ones of Saturday, I don’t think I’ll mind.

This was by no means among the best Takeovers of all time, but it was a show that kept me entertained from start to finish, and I can honestly say there wasn’t a bad match for the entire night. Sure, it didn’t blow me away, and I doubt it’ll be remembered all that vividly in the years to come, but sitting here, 12 hours after the show’s finished, I’m feeling positive about it.

6 – Breezango def. Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch, Legado del Fantasmo
(Winners become #1 contenders for the NXT Tag Team Championships)

I was wondering how NXT was going to treat their pre-shows. Whether they were going to give the matches room to breathe and let the wrestling sell the show. Unfortunately, they made the time restrictions even heavier, as they only had 30 minutes for Booker T to bicker with Sam Roberts, instead of the usual 60.

It’s a pretty simple case with this match, it wasn’t bad, all of the action was enjoyable, however, coming in at just under 7-minutes, it didn’t have time to be anything more significant. Especially given that it was a triple threat tag match, it seemed like a really bad decision to cut the time on this one so heavily. That’s the kind of match that needs the time to build to a chaotic climax, but that phase of the match never got the chance to arrive.

What we got was perfectly enjoyable, Legado is doing a great job character-wise in the ring, and I want to see more of them in the near future. Breezango winning is an interesting choice, as they already got a tag title shot recently, but I don’t mind going for round two. As I said in my predictions, they’ve had a new fire lit under them since returning to NXT, and they feel like very different wrestlers to what I knew them as during their first runs in NXT.

5 – Finn Balor def. Timothy Thatcher

Good match, zero build.

There’s honestly no better way to put it in my mind. I think I probably would’ve liked this match more if I had some greater reason to be invested in it. I know Thatcher has been screwing Balor over here and there, but I don’t think it was given nearly enough focus every week on TV. This is one of those situations where it seems like management just wanted to have a Finn Balor match on the PPV, without having any real plan for what he could do.

Regardless of how invested I was in it, the match was of good quality. I’m still not adjusted to Balor’s more muted style, but this was an instance where he had an opponent it played well with. Thatcher is a proper mat-based wrestler, and he knows how to make it look impactful and intriguing (something unfortunately rare in the modern wrestling scene). Balor responded to it well, trying to speed the pace of the match up at every opportunity to stop Thatcher getting one over on him.

The match’s narrative was fairly basic, but it was well-told in this instance. I adored the shot where Balor landed hard on his feet with a missed Coup-de-Gras only for both him and Thatcher to go wide-eyed, realising the opportunity Thatcher has just been given. Sure, Balor predictably came out on top, but I now understand Thatcher’s style and enjoy watching him more than I did going into it, so that’s got to be a positive.

4 – Karrion Kross def. Keith Lee(c)
(NXT Championship)

Sure, this felt more like a main-roster main event, but it was a very good one.

In my predictions, I theorised about the different ways this matches could go. While I pointed to Lee vs Dijakovic for a formula they could try to replicate, that ended up not being the case, and what we got instead had upsides and downsides.

The downsides first, which are mostly to do with pacing. I don’t care who you are, or how in-line with your character it is, ‘working the arm’ by holding it in place for 5 minutes, isn’t entertaining. Putting that spot to early on in the match was a bit of an issue too because it meant I felt out of the match almost immediately, and it had to win me back later on, rather than winning me over straight away and keeping me into it for the rest.

However, once the match left those spots behind, things picked up. The match was never fast, but I don’t think it needed to be, because it was impactful. When you’ve got a guy as big as Lee, and a guy as jacked as Kross, the entertainment value is going to be in the hard-hitting stuff, so that’s what they went for. I don’t feel like it entirely lived up to it’s potential, but I still enjoyed what we got, and I’m not going to sit here crying about how I didn’t get the match I wanted.

The finish was a bit odd. I know the Doomsday Suplex is one of Kross’ signature moves, but it didn’t look all that impressive in this instance. It looks great when he can throw a guy half-way across the ring like they’re nothing. However, with Lee, it looked like any standard middle rope spot – a type of spot that hasn’t won a match in about a decade. It made the finish feel a bit sudden and took the wind out of me a bit when Kross won off of something I wasn’t expecting.

Ultimately, I think he has all the potential to be a fantastic champion, so I’m happy to wait and see on this one.

3 – Adam Cole def. Pat McAfee

Well, it was definitely a lot better than I was expecting.

To point out the obvious, the in-ring action was reasonably basic. McAfee pulled off some impressive stuff here in there, but there wasn’t a great variety in the moves he gave or took (although, he took a picture-perfect Panama Sunrise, so props there). The thing is, the action wasn’t the point of this match, it was never going to be. This was a match all around the drama and the story, and looking at the in-ring storytelling on display here, it was really entertaining.

Pat understood the role he needed to play and played it to perfection. He picked all the right moments to be a cocky jackass and all the right moments to run away scared. I didn’t particularly care for the faction warfare stuff, but it was a good bridge to take us from the 100% drama-focus of the early stages to the latter phase of the match, where action became much more critical to the story.

Cole played off of McAfee really well too. His facial expression on the kickouts and impressive manoeuvres worked into the attitude that they have been presenting each other with. What’s most important is that, when the time came for McAfee to take his beating, he made it look good. Like I said, none of the moves he took (other than the Panama Sunrise) were particularly complicated or impressive, but he made the beatdown on him feel weighty, so watching Cole kick his ass was satisfying.

Nothing about it was a technical masterpiece, but I came away from it in a good mood, having thoroughly enjoyed the match I just watched.

2 – Io Shirai(c) def. Dakota Kai
(NXT Women’s Championship)

Weirdly, despite this being in the number two spot, there isn’t a great deal I have to say about it. It was just a really good match.

I don’t think anyone had any doubts over the result, so my focus around this match was more getting the most out of the action as possible, of which I think both women did a great job. Io looked beatable at several points without ever coming across as week, while Kai got to show off just about everything she can do. Momentum was continually shifting between the two women in this one, which meant we got a great variety in terms of the action. Yes, it had slower spots where Kai worked a limb for an extended spot because it was buried in between plenty of action, I was happy for the match to take a short breather every now and then.

As predictable as it was, I think it’s important to Kai’s story that we hit the obvious beat of Gonzalez getting involved. Given Kai’s insistence that she’s got to where she did ‘on her own’, something like this should sow the seeds of discourse between her & Gonzalez, especially since I’d imagine Kai will find a way to blame Gonzalez for her loss. Meanwhile, I think it’s time for Io to move onto someone else, probably Candice LaRae. Kai could absolutely come back later down the line and challenge whoever the champion is again, but for now, I don’t think we should overplay that hand.

I’m intrigued by the Ripley/Gonzalez tease though. I’m not sure if they want to head in a tag-team direction with that, or whether it’ll be a singles feud. Either way, I’m looking forward to it, and I hope it serves as a coming-out party of Gonzalez as a major player in the NXT women’s division.

1 – Damian Priest def. Johnny Gargano, Bronson Reed, Velveteen Dream, Cameron Grimes
(North American Championship)
(Ladder)

20-minutes of mental ladder-match antics. Perfect, exactly what I wanted.

This one had everything you could want from a multi-man ladder match. It didn’t need much time to warm up, the pace accelerated to maximum pretty darn quickly and stayed there right up until the end. Everyone got a chance to shine, each of them getting their own memorable moments, and somehow, everyone getting a chance to look like they were about to win the match. I honestly thought ladder matches were very limited in terms of pulling off convincing false-finishes, but man, every time someone got to the top of that ladder (which, in the final 5 minutes, was a lot) I thought it was over.

Outside of that, it was ladder-spots galore. Priest running up the ladder to do a dive onto the outside, Grimes holding the ladder on shoulders and smashing everyone to bits with it, Gargano awkwardly power bombing Grimes onto the ladder in a way that made it look even more brutal than intended. We even got a spot I can’t remember ever seeing before in a match like this, where they kept piling up people and ladders into the corner, only for one guy to squish them all together. All of it was a blast to watch, and what makes this match take the number one spot.

Damian Priest was absolutely the right person to win this one. I’m not sure who he’ll feud with first (probably one of the other participants in this match), but I hope he has a long and fruitful reign. He’s been threatening to break through in NXT for a while, and hopefully, a run with the North American title will seal the deal.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you thought of the show, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo! Finally, make sure you come back here this time tomorrow, where I’ll be giving you my review of Summerslam!